Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

From Spine to Reel: an Inquiry into the Pitfalls of Adapting Movies from Books

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From Spine to Reel: an Inquiry into the Pitfalls of Adapting Movies from Books

Some are terribly ill-advised and unwatchable: think The Road. Nothing like taking a minimalist text and putting a schmaltzy soundtrack to it, to make sure everyone knows how to feel. The Coen Brothers do much better with No Country for Old Men. They keep close to the book and are true to its lack of sentimentality.

Others we 'accidentally watch' before we read the book. I did that with Never Let Me Go and still have the book to look forward to. Maybe some of the crying I did to the movie will be robbed from the book.

Consider this: often a movie is so good you want to spend more time with it, read the book it was based on. However, rarely is the reverse true. The book does not leave you wanting two hours of moving pictures and sound.

The following are answers to the question: what is your favourite movie adaptation and what is your least favourite. The respondents will be interviewed about their latest books in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

ARJUN BASU:

My favorite book to movie adaptation is most definitely Heart of Darkness to Apocalypse Now. The book to film adaptation is fraught and the mediums are so different. I thought Adaptation, based (and I use that term loosely) on The Orchid Thief, was a kind of brilliant send up of the entire business of adaptation and it worked, too. The one genre of adaptation that I have consistently not enjoyed is Shakespeare. I feel the wall that already exists between modern audiences and the language is just made thicker by the wall created by film. It's like we're one too many generations removed from the story. And I am also tired of the Jane Austen industry. Really, really tired.

CAROLYN SMART:

My favourite book to movie adaptation is likely "Angels and Insects" closely followed by "Naked Lunch" and there are so many poor ones I cannot even begin to decide!

CATHERINE OWEN

For me, I agree, the mediums are very different and if one loves language, one is almost always going to find that a movie adaptation of a book will fail in terms of texture, rhythm and density.

SARAH SELECKY

I'm anxious/excited to see the adaptation of Motherless Brooklyn. That book is a favourite of mine - I hope they do it well.

You know, it's been a long time since I watched it, but I remember seeing the BBC adaptation of Zadie Smith's White Teeth years ago and loving it. I loved it because they were able to edit that long, crazy and rambling book and turn it into a well-crafted film. I enjoyed reading White Teeth too - but I also thought the adaptation was skillfully done.

I loved Adaptation. That might be my favourite - but I know that's an exception, because of all of the liberties they took with the original.

JOCKO BENOIT

I've always argued that many of the best adaptations come from novellas - more fleshed out than short stories, and not so much detail as in novels (much of which has to be cut out to make a passable screenplay). And my favorite adapted movie is The Man Who Would Be King (from the Rudyard Kipling story). The bonus here is that the original and the film both reflect sober second thoughts from one of England's most jingoistic writers. And, of course, the film features one of the all time best actor duos in Sean Connery and Michael Caine. In a virtual tie for first would be Blade Runner, despite the near total re-write of the original, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? That film is proof that you can totally bastardize a book and still recreate that old paranoid spirit. My third favorite would be One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. My least favorite - and not because of Will Smith - is I, Robot. They take Asimov's original concept and turn it into an action thriller. The movie asks many of the same questions we find in Asimov, but creates something that has none of the feel of the original robot stories.

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In looking around for author’s reactions to adaptations of their books, I was mostly pleased to find rousing “nay”s. Bret Easton Ellis, one of my favourites, didn’t like Less than Zero. Which, in my opinion, certainly didn’t get the disaffection of the characters and turned them into after-school-special-concerned-appropriate non-Ellisian beings. Milan Kundera hated The Unbearable Lightness of Being and refused to have any other of his books adapted to movies. If Juliette Binoche’s dimpled bum can’t sell you on a movie, surely there is no hope.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Angela Hibbs

Angela Hibbs's second collection of poetry, Wanton, came out with Insomniac Press in the Fall of 2009. With Sachiko Murakami, she co-hosts Pivot at the Press Club.

Go to Angela Hibbs’s Author Page